A team led by Niklaus Labhardt, professor at the University of Basel and research group leader at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH), has now developed a strategy to improve test coverage by 20 percent. For the first time, the team combined home visits with HIV self-tests. If villagers are absent during the home visits, the campaign team leaves self-tests with instructional material in the local language. Village health advisors, who have been trained in using and evaluating the self-tests, collect the self-tests afterward.
Simple approach, major impact
The large-scale randomized study included over 150 villages with more than 7,000 inhabitants. The results of this simple approach speak for themselves: "At 81 percent, the HIV test rate in the entire population of the intervention group was 20 percent higher than in the control group," says biostatistician Dr. Tracy Glass of Swiss TPH.
In a sub-study, the research team analyzed the strategy among young people and supplemented the research with interviews. "Traditional HIV testing campaigns do not reach young people sufficiently, although the infection rate is high, especially among young women," explains first author Dr. Alain Amstutz of Swiss TPH. "In the intervention group, the self-testing resulted in a 36 percent higher proportion of young people knowing their HIV status than in the control group."
The number of AIDS deaths has been declining worldwide since 2010. At the same time, there were still 1.7 million new infections in 2019, half of them in Africa. "Especially in rural areas, an alternative to traditional health campaigns is needed to achieve optimal test coverage. Our strategy is another important building block to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in southern Africa," says Prof. Dr. Labhardt.
The study was developed in close collaboration with the Lesotho Health Authority and the Swiss NGO SolidarMed. Financial support was provided by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the International AIDS Society, and the Stiftung für Infektiologie beider Basel.